As the Car of Tomorrow has replaced its predecessor, Sprint Cup cars of 2008 look closer to each other than ever. Look real hard at NASCAR's state-of-the-art four-wheeler and you can't distinguish much of a difference – if any – between a Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge or Toyota.
As the Car of Tomorrow has replaced its predecessor, Sprint Cup cars of 2008 look closer to each other than ever.
Look real hard at NASCAR's state-of-the-art four-wheeler and you can't distinguish much of a difference – if any – between a Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge or Toyota.
In fact, Cup racing's newest incarnation can typically only be told apart by nothing more than mere stickers.
That's right, stickers – those plastic or film-coated, adhesive-backed pieces of material that are applied to a race car to take the place of headlights, taillights and, most importantly, manufacturer badging.
So, in most instances, the only way to tell car manufacturer products apart on the race track is to look at the sticker in the middle of the front and back ends of each race car.
Right there, for all to see, is either the legendary bowtie logo of Chevrolet, the blue oval of Ford, the ram's head of Dodge and the three-oval "T" of Toyota.
With the debut of the Car of Tomorrow last season, half of the four manufacturers with Cup racing programs chose that introduction time to replace tried-and-true car models of vehicles with new versions specifically adapted for the COT.
In a sense, the manufacturers went back to one of stock car racing's old axioms as a major reason to introduce new models: race on Sunday, sell on Monday.
That's why Chevrolet switched from its tried-and-true Monte Carlo to the Impala, and Dodge changed from the Charger (following just two seasons after previously fielding the Intrepid) to the Avenger.
Ford retained the Fusion – which replaced the long-time Taurus stalwart in 2006 – and Toyota devised two different versions of its popular Camry: the "old" body style as well as the new COT body style.
For 2008 and the COT's first full season (it only appeared in 16 of last season's 36 Cup events), the only major tweak in the manufacturer's lineup is from Dodge, which has abruptly scrapped the Avenger COT version and replaced it for the first time with an all-new Charger version of the COT.
Perhaps Dodge found that the Avenger just wasn't up to snuff sales-wise with the NASCAR crowd, while the street version of the Charger – which can be had with as big an engine as a 6.1-liter, 425 horsepower Hemi motor – produces the kind of macho and muscle that the Avenger could only dream about.
It didn't help that some critics called the Avenger a "Charger Lite" – when in reality it was nothing like its big brother in terms of horsepower, size or even looks.
So, we return to the Charger nameplate in 2008 while Chevy maintains the status quo with the Impala, Ford motors along with the same version of the Fusion and Toyota's venerable Camry.
However, don't get all comfortable and start feeling the warm fuzzies with the current models.
Rumors have Chevy and Ford both potentially debuting new COT models in 2009. While Chevy's model remains to be seen, Ford is reportedly considering bringing back the Taurus nameplate to NASCAR to replace the Fusion due to the all-new Taurus returning to dealer showrooms this year after a two-plus year hiatus as an available model for consumers.
Last season, Chevrolet was the most dominant model in Cup racing with a record 26 wins in the 36-race season. Ford was a distant second with just seven wins (albeit up from six in 2006); Dodge reached victory lane just three times (as opposed to seven triumphs in 2006); and rookie Toyota comes into 2008 still searching for its first Cup checkered flag.
Speaking of Toyota, keep a close eye on it this season. Not only has the manufacturer made significant horsepower gains in the engine compartment, it has a new marquis organization sporting its badging in 2008.
With the emigration of one of the best organizations in the sport – Joe Gibbs Racing – from Chevrolet to Toyota, it's only a matter of time this season before the Japanese car manufacturer will be screaming "Oh, what a feeling!" in a Sprint Cup victory lane.
Also moving to Toyota is Hall of Fame Racing, with the single-car entry of J.J. Yeley. However, that move is not a surprise as HOF has been a virtual satellite operation of Joe Gibbs Racing since it was formed nearly three years ago. In fact, Yeley, who lost his ride with JGR after least season to Kyle Busch, was still thought of so highly that Gibbs' officials lobbied Hall of Fame officials to pick Yeley when the decision was made to replace Tony Raines, who had driven the No. 96 Chevrolet for the previous two seasons.
Other than those changes, however, there are no other major shifts from one manufacturer to another for 2008. That could potentially change in 2009, with rumors of Penske Racing moving to Toyota and potentially at least one current Ford team possibly switching to Chevy or Dodge also in the mill.
One other thing to watch for this season – most likely closer to summer – is Dodge's introduction of a new engine that promises more horsepower and cooler operating temperatures. Don't be surprised if the new powerplant is called Hemi, either.
When that happens, it would be the third major engine change among manufacturers since the start of the 2007 campaign, as Chevy (the R07) and Toyota (after scrapping its initial motor for a new variety for the COT) both introduced new motors during the course of last season.
Well, that wraps up our look at what's new in both cars and engines for 2008.
About all that's left now is to be patient and wait for that magical phrase we'll hear prior to the 2008 season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"
Jerry Bonkowski is National NASCAR Columnist for Yahoo! Sports and a featured contributor for Gatehouse News Service. He can be reached at NASCARColumnist@Yahoo.com.